‘Kahlo without Borders’ Exhibit Provides Intimate Look Into Frida Kahlo’s Life, Health Issues

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Photos courtesy of Zoe Kissel, MSU Broad Museum.

The Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum at MSU is kicking off 2022 with their latest exhibit, “Kahlo without Borders,” on display from Jan. 15 through Aug. 7. The lead exhibition was curated by artist Cristina Kahlo — the grandniece of famed Mexican painter Frida Kahlo — Javier Roque Vázquez Juárez, and MSU Broad Art Museum executive director Mónica Ramírez-Montagut. 

The exhibit aims to intimately connect visitors to the creative world of Frida Kahlo through images and publicly-never-before-seen documents and archives. The Broad’s Ramírez-Montagut spoke with ELi about how the exhibit came to be. 

“I was visiting my parents in Mexico when I decided to bring a new perspective on Frida Kahlo, and started chatting with colleagues to explore who was doing interesting, new work on her. It turned out that Frida Kahlo’s grandniece, photographer Cristina Kahlo, had been working on an intriguing project for years,” Ramírez-Montagut said. 

According to Ramírez-Montagut, Cristina Kahlo spent about four years trying to gain access to Frida’s clinical files. Eventually viewing them through a microfiche monitor with light coming through, she envisioned them being displayed as lightboxes. 

Photo courtesy of Zoe Kissel, MSU Broad Museum.

“My involvement with Cristina and the show was to make sure we are materializing her vision, and the idea that the exhibition should be perceived as a journey through a family album of memories: an intimate, personal look into an intimate and vulnerable moment of someone’s life,” Ramírez-Montagut said. “Thus the tone is somber and respectful, humbling in some way.”

The exhibition reveals Frida Kahlo’s vulnerable, everyday reality by honing in on health challenges: 32 surgeries, a list of daily medicines, and stories of chronic pain from her final days at ABC Hospital in Mexico City, Mexico.

A Michigan-origin artifact is also on display: “Self-Portrait, 9 July 1932,” made just five days after the artist had a miscarriage while in a Detroit hospital. 

Documents unveil a brave woman throughout simultaneous health, financial, and marital crises, Ramírez-Montagut said. 

“In this utterly overwhelming situation, she found self-expression to existentially cope and self-expression also as a vehicle for communicating her story with such emotional accuracy that universally still resonates today. I found the exhibition to be both very moving and truly inspiring,” Ramírez-Montagut said.

Photo courtesy of Zoe Kissel, MSU Broad Museum.

Ramírez-Montagut believes the exhibition can resonate with visitors, especially amidst a global health crisis. 

“Those of us that have found ourselves in vulnerable situations plagued with uncertainty, will perhaps find in this exhibition inspiration in Frida’s resilience, in her appreciation and gratitude for her support system, and to also re-consider the arts and creativity as a humanizing tool for coping and vehicle for overcoming challenges,” she said.

She hopes museum-goers can leave with a more humanized perspective on Frida, and the relevance of health care providers, who became like friends and family. 

Ramírez-Montagut also highlighted the MSU Broad Museum has Covid-19 policies in place to protect patrons and employees alike.

“We have excellent guidelines in place that prioritize everyone’s safety, so we hope you visit,” she said. “And when you do, please keep in mind the exhibition has a lot of information so please schedule enough time to dig into the letters and archives and closely observe the photos. You will be moved by the personal story of one of our most important artists of the 20th century.”

The previously-scheduled January exhibition reception and other events have been redesigned to be offered virtually, given the pandemic. Other corresponding events, including a chat with Cristina Kahlo and also Juan Coronel (a grandson of Diego Rivera), are scheduled for the summer, starting in June.

Entrance to the museum is free, as is the exhibit, which runs from Jan. 15, 2022 to August 7, 2022. Tickets can be reserved online, part of the newly-implemented timed-entry ticketing system that enforces capacity limits. Tickets can be reserved up to one month in advance at broadmuseum.msu.edu.

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